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WDFW OPT Wolf Removal Op Can Proceed After Lawsuit Attempt

Editor’s note: Since this blog was posted around 3:30 p.m. today, Aug. 1, 2019, a King County Superior Court judge has sided against parties trying to stop WDFW from lethally removing livestock depredating wolves. “Judge decided in DFW’s favor so we can move forward with removal,” said agency spokeswoman Staci Lehman at 5:30 p.m. via email. “However, we don’t have a timeframe currently and someone else could file another TRO at any time.”

Editor’s note 2: During the Aug. 2, 2019 Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Director Kelly Susewind provided an update to say that there will be an Aug. 16 court date “for a follow-up status report” and that in the meanwhile WDFW is “actively looking” to implement his lethal removal authorization.

Another active day in Washington’s wolf world, as the focus shifted from northern Ferry County to Seattle today.

That’s where a Maryland-based organization says a motion has been filed to stop WDFW from killing more Old Profanity Territory wolves for chronic cattle depredations.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The state agency has paused its planned lethal operation against the pack now blamed for killing or injuring 27 cows and calves since last September pending a judge’s decision.

A temporary restraining order could be granted with a follow-up court date in several days, or the injunction could be tossed out, which would allow WDFW to proceed, according to spokeswoman Staci Lehman.

As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, word one way or another had yet to emerge from court.

WDFW Director Kelly Susewind had greenlighted more OPT removals first thing yesterday morning, and following an eight-hour window for court challenges, state staffers could have begun targeting the eight wolves last evening or this morning.

But the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court by “two Washington residents” represented by Seattle attorney Johnathon Bashford and “with the support” of Wayne Pacelle’s Center for a Humane Economy put a halt to that.

Lehman says that technically motions can be filed by anybody at any time but that the eight-hour notice is a “courtesy” for people to get their “legal ducks in a row” before WDFW takes action.

Appealing for a restraining order is the same play that the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands made last August after the Togo Pack had attacked three times in 30 days and Susewind OKed killing one or two to try and head off more problems.

A Thurston County Superior Court judge initially granted the out-of-state groups a TRO, but it was lifted about 10 days later by another judge because it didn’t meet a legal benchmark to be able to move forward, and one Togo wolf was ultimately taken out.

In this latest lawsuit threat, the parties are taking issue with WDFW for removing wolves depredating on Diamond M Ranch cattle on federal grazing allotments and trying to draw attention to the livestock producers’ alleged “needlessly provocative actions.”

Meanwhile, they’re also taking their own — attempting to break the fragile peace that is wolf management in Washington, just as the Arizona- and Oregon-based organizations before them.

They’ve taken out a full-page ad in The Seattle Times in recent weeks and reintroduced Rob Wielgus into the fray, he of the 2016’s incendiary comments about the Diamond M and where they allegedly turned their cows out — and which led to a sharp rebuke from the university where he worked at the time.

Yesterday, WDFW also announced that a Togo Pack wolf had been shot by a rancher as it chased a calf and that the pack had three attacks within the past 30 days. The agency also alerted the public a week or so ago the Grouse Flats Pack had three in the past 10 months.

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WDFW’s Susewind OKs Removing More OPT Wolves After Calf Attacks

As livestock losses mount again in northern Ferry County, WDFW again aims to reduce the number of wolves in the Old Profanity Territory Pack, now blamed for 27 attacks on cows and calves since early last September.

A WDFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE OPT PACK TERRITORY, OUTLINED IN RED, IN NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY. (WDFW)

Director Kelly Susewind’s authorization came this morning following yesterday’s news that three injured calves had been found July 26 and four other injured or dead ones in the days before that.

Six were confirmed wolf depredations, the seventh a probable, making for eight attacks in the last 30 days.

“The chronic livestock depredations and subsequent wolf removals are stressful and deeply concerning for all those involved,” Susewind said in a statement. “The department is working very hard to try to change this pack’s behavior, while also working with a diversity of stakeholders on how to prevent the cycle from repeating.”

Following the early July discovery of a dead cow on a federal grazing allotment, he OKed beginning incremental removals, leading to the killing of the pack’s breeding male in hopes of heading off further depredations and changing the wolves behavior.

But the attacks continued during an evaluation period, leading to this new effort.

“WDFW staff believe depredations are likely to continue in the near future even with the current and responsive nonlethal tools being utilized,” the agency states in outlining that preventative work.

This morning’s update gives wolf advocates eight hours to challenge the decision in court before operations begin; they did not do so during the window after Susewind’s initial authorization earlier this month.

Two OPT wolves were lethally removed last fall following depredations then.

The general area of mountainous, forested and burned Colville NF ground was also the scene of wolf-livestock conflict in 2016.

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More Cattle Attacks In Ferry Co.; Wielgus Part Of WDFW Pressure Campaign

As wolf advocates launch a pressure campaign against Washington wildlife managers over their handling of the OPT Pack, the Ferry County wolves have reportedly attacked three more calves since the breeding male was taken out nine days ago.

A TRAIL CAM SHOT CAPTURED A MEMBER OF THE ORIGINAL PROFANITY PEAK PACK OF NORTHERN FERRY COUNTY, WHICH WAS LETHALLY REMOVED IN 2016 AFTER NUMEROUS DEPREDATIONS. (WDFW)

The Capital Press says that one of the calves was found dead while the other two died as a result of the depredations from this past Thursday and Saturday.

The pack has been in an evaluation period after the large wolf was lethally removed July 13 in response to the killing of an adult cow on a federal grazing allotment discovered July 6.

That loss was the 20th attributed to the OPTs since early last September.

“Our team is meeting this morning as we speak,” said Staci Lehman, a WDFW spokesperson based out of Spokane, a short time ago.

The Press reports that the rancher whose cattle were attacked claims the incidents occurred near lights set up to ward off wolves.

“The only thing they can do is total pack removal,” Len McIrvin told the ag outlet.

In a new pressure campaign, McIrvin is termed an “instigator for a long series of ‘wolf depredation’ actions” taken by WDFW and accounts for 85 percent of all lethal removals.

The Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action also placed a full-page ad in yesterday’s Seattle Times calling on Director Kelly Susewind not to authorize more removals, and sent out a press release that brings Rob Wielgus, the former Washington State University professor, back into the conflict.

In 2016, Wielgus claimed McIrvin and his Diamond M Ranch had turned out cattle “directly on top” of the original Profanity Peak Pack’s den, but WDFW and WSU officials refuted that, saying the herd had been let out 4 to 5 miles away.

“My research shows that non-lethal controls, such as keeping livestock and salt blocks one kilometer away from wolf denning and rendezvous areas, are very effective in deterring rare wolf attacks on livestock,” Wielgus stated in the AWA press release.

According to WDFW, the rancher delayed turnout two weeks and sent out calves born earlier in the year, both of which “are considered proactive conflict mitigation measures because the calves are larger and more defensible.”

“The producer is continuing to coordinate patrols of the grazing area with WDFW and county staff, removing or securing livestock carcasses to avoid attracting wolves to the rest of the herd, using Fox lights at salting and watering locations to deter wolves, and removing sick and injured livestock (when discovered) from the grazing area until they are healed,” the agency reported last Tuesday.

At the very least, expect a weekly update on the situation from WDFW tomorrow.

Meanwhile, as outside groups attempt to minimize Washington’s wolf count and make the wild animals seem more vulnerable, the agency is increasing the visibility of how it manages wolves, placing the species as the banner on its website with a link to population information.

“The 2018 annual report reinforces the profile of wolves as a highly resilient, adaptable species whose members are well-suited to Washington’s rugged, expansive landscape,” the statement reads.

Next month expect to begin hearing more about planning for postrecovery wolf management in the state, a scoping process that will include more than a dozen meeting from September through November.

WDFW will essentially be asking the public if there is anything missing in its plans for how to deal with wolves after they reach population goals in the coming years.

For hunters or others unable to attend the meetings, there will be a webinar version.

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Washington Wolves, Ranchers, Ideas In The News

As Washington wolf managers report taking out one member of a cattle-depredating pack and suspending efforts to kill the last two in another, a pair of in-depth reports on the issues around managing the rangy predators are also in the news this week.

TOGO WOLF. (WDFW)

They’re much better pieces than the usual slap-dash broad-brush strokes passed off as wolf reporting in these pages and elsewhere these days.

KREM 2 in Spokane interviews and brings together rancher Ron Eslick of Ferry County, whose cattle have unfortunately fed the Togo Pack, and two representatives from The Lands Council of Spokane who have an idea for restoring old meadows throughout the Colville National Forest with an eye towards grazing.

It wasn’t immediately clear how that bid might fit into the just revised forest plan, but allotments are key for livestock producers, allowing them to cut their home pastures in summer to build up a winter store of hay while their cow-calf pairs bulk up in the forested mountains, but the arrival of wolves have led to conflict between the critters as well as people.

At the tip of the spear is Ferry, Stevens and Benton Counties’ Diamond M, said to be the state’s largest ranch and which is the subject of a 2,600-word article in the Capital Press.

It charts the McIrvin family’s history on the range back to the late 1940s when members drove their cattle into the mountains of Northeast Washington in old Army trucks, but how what worked for the ranch founders and next generation or two isn’t working anymore with pack upon pack after pack settling in.

They feel like they’re not going to win the popularity contest that essentially pits the Old West against a species in the internet age widely adored around the world. A fellow producer says that if the Diamond M goes down, it would be a “humongous trophy” for environmental groups, like those that vowed the national forests would be “Cattle Free by ’93.”

In the background is WDFW, whose new director is not entirely happy with the repeated conflicts.

He termed the lethal removal protocols in place the last two seasons “pretty conservative” and while “not saying we need to make it easy to kill wolves, but as soon as we can get into a routine of managing, I think things will go better,” in another Press article.

Interesting reads.

O.P.T. Pack Injures 5 More Calves, WDFW Says Removal Ops ‘Ongoing’

Washington wolf managers are confirming that the Old Profanity Territory Pack injured five more calves on a northern Ferry County grazing allotment and that their incremental removal operation is still “ongoing.”

So far a sharpshooter has killed one wolf from the pack, a 50-pound juvenile, on Sept. 16 and under WDFW Director Kelly Susewind’s kill authorization another can be taken out.

He gave the order back on Sept. 12 following attacks that injured five other calves and killed a sixth in the space of a week and a half.

The pack is believed to consist of three or four adults and two juvenile wolves.

The latest calf depredations occurred five days to a week before Sept. 21, according to WDFW.

Local state lawmaker Rep. Joel Kretz reported the attacks on his Facebook page on Sept. 20.

The livestock producer, identified as Les McIrvin of the Diamond M Ranch, is using range riders, removing carcasses, bringing sick and injured cattle off the landscape and moving his herd out of the danger area, but he’s not happy about the last one.

“There is all the feed in the world at the high elevations, but the wolves are driving the cattle into a canyon with no food or water,” McIrvin told the Press.

Earlier in the grazing season he waited until July 10 to turn out his animals in the Kettle Range, the idea being to put larger, less vulnerable calves on the landscape.

After being relatively quiet since its second loss in Thurston County Superior Court, the Center For Biological Diversity again began rallying its supporters to contact WDFW against removals.